Atkin sets the (commercial) Bar high in construction, energy and infrastructure, with a supportive culture to match.
Atkin Chambers pupillage review 2024
“Our USP is quality,” says senior clerk, Justin Wilson. His simple statement is punctuated by the sounds of construction in the background (thanks to the set’s summer party marquee being built outside), which is appropriate considering the topic of conversation: "Construction and engineering disputes are at the heart of what we are known for, and our members are instructed on major infrastructure projects worldwide, often related to construction, energy, shipbuilding, IT or professional negligence." Atkin receives top recognition from Chambers UK Bar in construction, construction/engineering-related international arbitration and construction/technology-specific professional negligence. Tips of the hat also go to its IT and energy and natural resources practices.
"The biggest trend will likely be the Building Safety Act and the Fire Safety Act post-Grenfell"
Global work is the name of the game at Atkin, and a pupil noted that “lots of members go to international arbitrations in all parts of the world.” Case in point: Stuart Catchpole KC represented Qatar Airways Group in a massive $1.8 billion dispute with European aircraft manufacturer – one example among a string of airport-related matters in the Middle East, according to Wilson. Another key case arose from the Panama Canal Expansion Project, where Atkin barristers Christopher Lewis KC, Manus McMullan KC and Peter Land acted on behalf of the Panama Canal Authority in multiple disputes and arbitrations. Wilson highlights that, on home turf, “the biggest trend will likely be the Building Safety Act and the Fire Safety Act post-Grenfell. That’s bringing in an enormous amount of domestic work relating to cladding and fire safety issues.” In fact, Atkin’s Stephanie Barwise KC has been leading a Grenfell Tower Public Enquiry, representing a group of survivors, former residents and bereaved relatives.
However, Wilson explains that “chambers does a huge amount of international work, but our domestic work is equally important. While the opportunity to travel the world is seen as a real attraction for many members, it is not for everyone. It's up to us to cater for all of that.” To support its 55 barristers in reaching their goals, cultivating relationships with smaller firms is key, as it allows more junior barristers to get the experience they need to grow. “Those smaller firms probably send us the largest number of instructions every year,” says Wilson. “The cases tend to be smaller, domestic matters, but are massively important for our junior barristers as we want them to undertake work in their own right, alongside the bigger matters in which they work as part of a larger team.”
The Pupillage Experience
Pupils undertake three seats with three different supervisors: two three-month rotations, followed by a final six-month stint. Pupils are given a mix of live and historic work and, according to a junior, “supervisors will target pieces of work they think will be particularly useful for your development.” What’s more, according to a pupil, “there’s a real emphasis for you to see and do work you haven’t done.” So, pupils work alongside barristers of varying seniority within different sub-specialisms. “I started to see a lot more arbitration with my second supervisor and was doing pieces of live work, while my first supervisor placed more emphasis on dead work,” a pupil noted. “You see a broad range of work throughout the year and get access to all of the practice areas that chambers does.”
Since construction, engineering and IT are niche sub-sections of the commercial Bar, Atkin pupils spend their time getting to grips with the specialisms rather than practising in their final six months. This means that pupils are typically paired with barristers who are in the preparation stage of a case, so will join calls and work through a “juicy set of papers.” Though the set avoids pairing pupils with supervisors in the middle of a trial, our pupil interviewees had the opportunity to witness “a really important, topical case for the industry, raising a lot of new points that a lot of people – lawyers and non-lawyers – are interested in.” Later in the pupillage, it’s likely for pupils to find themselves assisting their supervisors with day-to-day tasks to help prepare for final assessments. Supervisors also make a report on each pupil's performance which contributes to the final tenancy decision.
“All of the assignments are live work that the barristers were given in the last few months.”
Pupils are assigned one piece of assessed written work and three advocacy exercises, the last of which is assessed. However, the bulk of assessment starts at the nine-month mark, “by which time you will have had enough time to make lots of mistakes,” a junior assured. Panel work makes up a decent chunk of assessment, in which various pieces of work are sent by members of chambers over a four- to five-week period. Barrister and member of the pupillage and recruitment committee (PRC), Nicholas Maciolek, explains that this is “supposed to be a rough simulation of what life in chambers is like. You’re given a series of instructions over time and have to negotiate with your supervisor to fit in the work and get it done.” The assigning barristers send a report to the PRC on the quality of the work submitted. It’s challenging but interesting, according to pupils: “All of the assignments are live work that the barristers were given in the last few months. Two of the pieces were from silks, so we’re doing what KCs are doing!”
A test featuring “a knotty set of papers” is the final piece of work added to the assessment box before the PRC makes the final tenancy decision. This is then passed onto chambers for a vote of all members, although Maciolek reports that “the PRC’s report carries a great deal of weight in practice, so it’s fair to say they’re the leading voice of the decision.” In the final three months of training after hopefully securing a spot, future tenants can start to take on their own cases. However, according to a junior, “that’s up to your supervisor to decide whether they want to continue giving you work or whether they think you’d benefit from taking on work of your own.” The firm does not disclose its tenancy figures.
Interviewees emphasised the high level of support felt from the top down, with a junior boasting that “from the word go, you’re made to feel valued and that you have autonomy over your work.”Clerks and barristers are on a first-name basis, and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know them in a more laidback, social atmosphere. “They run a lot of networking events with clients where you can chat, relax and have drinks with them,” a junior explained. “You become close quite quickly as you spend a lot of time calling them up to see how things work. I often call them for a chat about non-work-related issues, too!” Wilson echoes this sentiment, adding that this support means “staff and barristers are happy and stay for long periods of time. You get the quality of work and earnings potential, but in a more personal atmosphere.”
“… there’s usually a curly wurly or a red velvet cake.”
On the social side, there’s chambers tea every day at 4pm, with cake on Tuesdays. “That’s normally well-attended, and there’s usually a curly wurly or a red velvet cake,” a pupil quipped. There are also weekly drinks, monthly lunches, Christmas and summer parties, the last of which is hosted in the (aforementioned) marquee outside the building. We heard that “the more senior people start chatting and telling stories at these events, so it’s really good fun.” More broadly, pupils felt comfortable approaching senior barristers in social and professional settings, with one grateful that “so many silks have told me to pop my head around the door if I have any questions, and it feels like a very genuine offer.”
The Application Process
Atkin processes its applications through the Pupillage Gateway, asking candidates to submit a CV and answer questions on why Atkin, and why you’d be a good match. “The questions made sense,” said a pupil, “and having 500 words per response meant I could actually say what I wanted to say.” The PRC is looking for people who meet seven main criteria, including strong oral and written skills, commitment to diversity, understanding of the law, integrity, teamwork, and commitment to practice at chambers.
About 30 applicants make it to the first interview, in which candidates are asked a question of public interest, where “we ask people to argue against the obvious. It’s not about the correctness of your opinion, but how you can present the full expanse of any argument in favour of the opposition.” Maciolek gives us an example of a question from the most recent round of interviews: “Should the role of a civil judge be limited to finding the facts, with AI then applying the law to those facts?” They are then asked about their CV to “genuinely get to know them, understand where they come from and why they’ve come to us,” says Maciolek.
“We give them an unseen topic which is designed to test how they really think when they haven’t had time to prepare.”
The ten to twelve applicants who make it through to the final interview are given a set of papers a week in advance and invited to prepare a piece of written work (usually a skeleton argument), which Maciolek explains is "a difficult question to which we don't know the answer." The first half of the interview tests the strength of the argument while the second half focuses on a strictly legal question. "It’s intended to be hard," says Maciolek. "We give them an unseen topic which is designed to test how they really think when they haven’t had time to prepare.”
You’re Atkin all the right questions: If you’re wondering how to approach your application, Maciolek advises: “Not every argument merits the same approach, so think about which points need the most attention and how you should best express them.”
1 Atkin Building,
Atkin Chambers is a leading set of commercial barristers with an international reputation for providing advocacy and specialist legal advice on cases concerning construction and engineering, energy, technology and major infrastructure projects. Disputes are extremely varied and include transport, power, water/sanitation, shipbuilding and offshore construction, and social infrastructure projects. Wider commercial and professional negligence work is frequently related to such disputes.
Type of work undertaken
The members of Atkin Chambers offer a huge breadth and depth of experience in disputes which are often complex both in terms of the law and the technical nature of the underlying dispute. They are recognised as being leaders in their field. In the UK members regularly appear as advocates before the Appellate Courts and High Court, as well as in commercial arbitrations.
Disputes are often commercially and/or politically sensitive and high-profile and have included landmark UK cases such as disputes relating to The Shard, Wembley Stadium, the Olympic Village, the Channel Tunnel, The British Library, The Rolls Building, Heathrow T5, the M25 and London Underground. International work is equally substantial with major transport infrastructure and energy projects being a common feature, and disputes are frequently cross-border and/or involving parties from several jurisdictions.
Atkin Chambers won both “Construction Set of the Year” at the Chambers UK Bar Awards and ‘Construction and Energy Set of the Year’ at The Legal 500 Bar Awards in 2022.
Chambers is committed to recruiting pupils and tenants who are highly motivated and have an interest in practising in the areas of law in which we specialise. Members come from a variety of backgrounds and culture and have taken a range of different routes (academic and vocational) to becoming a barrister. All are valued. There is no single mould within which candidates must fit.
Applicants for pupillage should have a first-class degree or a good upper second-class degree. Postgraduate qualifications are viewed favourably but are not essential. Chambers encourages applications for pupillage from law and non-law graduates alike.
Candidates should be able to demonstrate a commitment to a career at the commercial bar. A science or technical background is not required, nor is a pre-existing knowledge of construction law, although candidates should have a firm grounding and interest in contract and tort law.
Although a mini-pupillage is not a pre-requisite to applying for a pupillage, prospective pupils are encouraged to apply in order to gain some knowledge of the areas of law in which Atkin Chambers specialises. Please see Atkin Chambers’ website for details of how and when to apply. Successful applicants to the mini-pupillage scheme can claim reasonable travel expenses and ask us to arrange overnight accommodation.
Atkin Chambers takes recruitment to pupillage and tenancy extremely seriously. The pupillage year is structured to provide all of the Bar Council’s minimum training requirements and the additional training Chambers considers necessary for successful entry into the high-quality commercial work of its practice. Atkin Chambers provides its own advocacy training and assessment in addition to that provided by the Inns of Court. Applications for the year starting in September 2025 open in January 2024. Please apply to Atkin Chambers through the Bar Council Pupillage Gateway.
Chambers reimburses all reasonable travel expenses for pupillage interviewees.
Chambers offers two 12-month pupillages. The pupillage award is £80,000 (from September 2024). Up to £25,000 of this award may be drawn down in advance to assist pupils during their BPTC.
Atkin Chambers is committed to respecting and understanding the cultural needs of its diverse and global client base and has always prized equality and diversity in both recruitment and the provision of services. We continue to recognise the importance of increasing social mobility at the Bar and look at all applications for pupillage and mini pupillage solely on merit and irrespective of race, colour, ethnic or national origin, nationality, citizenship, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, maternity or paternity, disability, religion or belief, age or political persuasion. We welcome applications from graduates of all universities and from all backgrounds and all sections of the community with the ability and determination to succeed as a barrister.
Equality and diversity at the Bar
Chambers welcomes the opportunity to work with other groups to foster equality and diversity at the Bar. Atkin Chambers supports FreeBar, a forum focused on LGBT+ people and their allies working at and for the Bar. A number of members of Atkin Chambers are founding members of The TECBAR BAME Network.
Chambers is pleased to support The 10,000 Interns Foundation which aims to transform the horizons and prospects of young black people in the UK by offering paid work experience across a wide range of industries, as well as world-class training and development.
Atkin Chambers is a signatory to the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge and the Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses Pledge.
In 2022 Atkin Chambers agreed to support Support Through Court as a “Changemaker Guardian” for an initial three years. This charity supports those who face going to court alone so that they can represent themselves to the best of their abilities. In addition, Atkin Chambers has been a supporter of the work of Advocate (the Bar Pro Bono Unit) as a Pro Bono Patron since 2019.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Construction (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Construction/Engineering (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)